Days of Delusion - A Strange Bit of History

Chapter 12

By Clara Endicott Sears, 1924

"Watchman! tell us of the night,
For the morning seems to dawn.
Traveler, darkness takes its flight;
Doubt and terror are withdrawn!"

The foregoing accounts of the various ways in which the coming and the passing of the time of the expected end of all things was met, and which were received from authentic sources, must be followed by a short description of the bewilderment of those who were responsible for all this disturbance of mental equilibrium. In his "Life and Experiences" Elder Luther Boutelle gives us a glimpse of what happened:

"The 22nd of October passed, making unspeakably sad the faithful and longing ones; but causing the unbelieving and wicked to rejoice. All was still. No 'Advent Herald'; no meetings as formerly. Everyone felt lonely, with hardly a desire to speak to any one. Still in the cold world! No deliverance - the Lord not come!. No words can express the feelings of disappointment of a true Adventist then. Those only who experienced it can enter into the subject as it was. It was a humiliating thing, and we all felt it alike. All were silent, save to inquire, 'Where are we?' and 'What next?' All were housed and searching their Bibles to learn what to do. In some few places they soon began to come together to watch for some development of light relative to our disappointment.

"Not quite content with being housed, after such stirring times, I went to Boston. Found the 'Advent Herald' office closed, and all still. I next went to New Bedford. Found the Brethren in a confused state. Had a few meetings; comforted those who came as best I could, telling them to hold fast, for I believed there would be good come out of this matter. Returning from New Bedford to Boston, I found the office of our 'Herald' open, and Brother Bliss in charge there. He said he had hardly been from his house since the time passed. He inquired if there were any meetings being held. I told him there was to be one in the city that evening, and that in other places they were coming together to comfort one another."

But as was to be expected, the moment they began to talk things over, controversies began. The prophecy having failed utterly and completely, reproaches, denials, even accusations, passed between the various leaders of the doctrine, and while the public was letting loose its shafts of ridicule and sarcasm over the position in which these unhappy brethren found themselves, they floundered about in a quagmire of explanations and refutations, sinking deeper and deeper as they tried to extricate themselves from their dilemma. Elder Joshua V. Himes, who could not bear the humiliation of ridicule, swung right about-face, contradicting in bold fashion and even denying exhortations which he had delivered with passionate fervor before the expected end. Thus, in "The Midnight Cry" of November 5, 1844, in an attempt to quell the outbursts of public indignation over the hysterical fanaticism which was so widespread as a result of the preaching which thousands had been listening to, he asserts that, "although in this late movement many have left their secular callings, yet it is well known that this course has been contrary to our whole advice and teachings while we have engaged in this cause." Yet it was he who just before the expected end, as editor of "The Midnight Cry," had published Brother George Storr's public confession in which were these words: "I confess that I have been led into error and therefore have led others astray, in advising Advent believers to leave business entirely and attend meetings only." It will be remembered also how strongly he finally came out for the tenth day of the seventh month in an article that teemed with seeming confidence in this new date, but now, to the astonishment of the rank and file of the followers, whom he had assisted in reaching a condition of hysteria, he asserts in "The Morning Watch" of February 20th, four months later, that "the cry of the seventh month was a local and partial one. It was confined to this country," and he goes on to say that the cry produced no effect in Europe whatsoever. He even tried to lay the blame of the origin of the seventh month theory on a man in Philadelphia named Gorgas, who he said pretended to be inspired to give the precise hour of the Lord's Advent; and in "The Morning Watch" of February 27th, which was the new name for "The Midnight Cry," and of which he was editor, he had the temerity to give a solemn warning; "Firstly, of giving heed to the theories, speculations, and strained interpretations of the Scripture."

"Facts which have occurred in our history," he goes on to say, "show that when these theories fail, those who have entertained them are injured as must always be the case when we hold an error instead of truth" - and he quotes from the Scriptures: "For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that if it were possible they shall deceive the very elect."

Is it to be wondered at that many of the followers, especially those who were now deprived of their earthly belongings because of having been brought to believe that the end of all things was at hand, should have resented this, as coming from one who had been foremost in promulgating "theories, speculations, and strained interpretations of the Scriptures" among them?

Too ill and decrepit to write out the explanation of the failure of the prophecy which the public demanded of him, poor old Prophet Miller dictated to Elder Bliss a long explanation which he called his "Apology and Defense," and it was published by Elder Hines in Boston. In this he tried to explain how it happened that he finally endorsed the date of October 22nd as the day on which the end would come, after having held out against it for so long. He states that he "had no fellowship with the movement until about two or three weeks previous to the 22nd of October, when, seeing it had obtained such prevalence, and considering it was at a probable point of time, I was persuaded that it was the work of God." In other words, the old man was swept into the whirlpool of the delusion which had originally generated itself in his own brain, and was swamped with the rest of the victims of the prophecy in a paroxysm of hysteria. At least he was honest in his statement. But he could not resist casting an invective at all the self-appointed preachers of his doctrine, in a letter addressed to "The Brethren," and which was published in the "Advent Herald" of December 3, 1844. In this he says: "The causes which required God's chastening hand upon us were, in my humble opinion, Pride, Fanaticism, and Sectarianism."

"Pride," he writes, "worked in many ways. We were seeking the honors or applause of men more than of God. We were some of us seeking to be leaders, instead of being servants, boasting too much of our doing."

In regard to the fanaticism which had been running riot he wrote:

"I know our enemies accused us of this before we were guilty; but this did not excuse us for running into it….

"Sometimes our meetings were distinguished by noise and confusion, and - forgive me, Brethren, if I express myself too strongly - it appeared to me more like Babel than a solemn assembly of penitents bowing in humble reverence before a holy God! I have often obtained more evidence of inward piety from a kindling eye, a wet cheek, and a choked utterance than from all the noise in Christendom."

In the midst of all the endless and futile explanations, refutations, and retaliations that were causing dire confusion and bitterness of spirit among the followers of Prophet Miller, it was Brother George Storrs who, suddenly awakening from his delusion when the prophecy failed, put the whole experience into a nutshell by coming out with the flat-footed statement that he believed Mesmerism to have been at the root of it from start to finish!

An uproar of indignation burst forth from those who continued to hold to the doctrine, but he refused to swerve from his newly acquired conviction. The fact that he had been one of the chief advocates of the tenth day of the seventh month theory, and had been instrumental in converting Prophet Miller to it, added to the resentment and bewilderment which this unexpected statement aroused among his associates. But the more they resented it, the more positively he asserted it.

In "The Morning Watch" of February 20th (1845) he states the case plainly and according to the principles of modern psychology:

In reference to some things in the tenth-day excitement he writes, "It was nothing but Mesmerism, by which I mean it was the product of a mere human influence; in other words; it was not of God; and I would not say it was of the Devil; hence I must say it was of ourselves - a mere human influence called Mesmerism.

"What is Mesmerism? It is the influence which one body, or person, has over another to act upon them to produce certain results. In other words, it is a mere human influence. In itself it is not evil. It is essential to Society, and may be used to bless mankind when it is directed by the Word and Spirit of God, but when directed by one's own fancy, or left to run unguided by the understanding, or judgment, or reason, it leads astray.

"The great point which gave power to the movement was the positiveness with which we cried, 'The Lord will come in the clouds of heaven' on the tenth day of the seventh month. Take away the positiveness and the event which that positiveness referred to, and no one believes the excitement that existed would have come into being. Now, then, was that positiveness that that event would come at that time, of God? I dare not say it was, any more than I dare charge the Holy Spirit with falsehood. The event did not occur….

"As the event did not occur, we were mistaken in supposing that we were actuated by the Holy Spirit in making the cry we did in respect to the manner and the time. I repeat it, it was not of God. I am not disposed to say it was of the Devil; and there is but one other source to which it can be attributed; and hence the mildest expression I could use was to say, it was mere human influence, or Mesmerism… Every day confirms me more and more that it is a true word, and the fanaticism that is breaking out almost continually in some form among those who still persist that the entire movement, about the tenth day, was all of God serves to add to my conviction that we were deluded by a mere human influence, which we mistook for the Spirit of God… May the Lord forgive us all wherein we have erred, or gone astray, and help us to be humble and possess Christian meekness for time to come.

"To all it may concern this is addressed in love.

"George Storrs."

No words can express the amazement and the utter consternation that this change of faith produced upon the unhappy followers of Prophet Miller. Staggered at hearing such an opinion expressed by one of the chief instigators of the tenth day of the seventh month movement, they protested loudly against such a declaration regarding the great emotions under which they had been swayed, but as each denunciation and remonstrance was flung back at him Brother Storrs retorted with disconcerting directness.

"It is a truth that God has declared, 'When a prophet speaketh in the name if the Lord, if the thing follows not nor comes to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken!'

"Hence it is a truth that the tenth-day cry was not of the Lord. And hence also to attribute that cry to the Spirit of the Lord looks very much like sinning against the Spirit!"

And as though his restored equilibrium stirred in him an uncontrollable desire to bring matters down to an uncompromising common-sense level, he fairly took the breath away from his former friends by declaring in the same article which appeared in "The Morning Watch" of February 20, 1845, of which Elder Himes was the publisher:

"I might enter into details and demonstrate, as can easily be done, that those who least suspect themselves have acted under a mere human influence - but I forbear!"

Such a thrust, so evidently aimed at their leader, confused and startled those who still remained under the spell of delusion, and "The Morning Watch" of that whole period rings with remonstrances and controversies - all speaking out their minds.

The followers of Prophet Miller were now falling from the ranks by the thousands, some of them being so shattered by the excitement through which they passed that in the reaction that followed they became atheists, and stamped their feet upon the ground and denounced the things of the Spirit; while by the same laws of action and reaction many of those still deluded went to even greater lengths of fanaticism, losing all sense of proportion and sane reasoning. A little group, though dazed and almost overwhelmed by the gibes and taunts of the relentless world, remained faithful to the tenets of Prophet Miller's doctrine, but even they were continually changing and modifying certain points in it to meet the situation. [It has been estimated that the number of sincere and genuine Millerites numbered 50,000, but added to that were hosts of followers who tentatively believed, and followed the real believers in a state of terrified uncertainty. They were as loud in their expressions of convictions as any, but when the end failed to come they dropped away, denying ever having taken part in the movement. There were also great numbers who became followers mainly from a love of excitement, who attended all the meetings taking place in their neighborhood, and up to the end did their full share of spreading fanaticism right and left. The imminent approach of Doom did not concern these so much as the morbid and, to them, pleasurable excitement of preparing for it.]

There certainly were many things happening to disconcert even the most loyal. As an example the case of Sister Mathewson caused many to pause. Upon a general inquiry as to the final ending of her case, "The Morning Watch" of March 20, 1845, states: "We answer that Sister Mathewson has gone the way of all the earth. She died about two months ago. It is well known that she often declared that she should live until the Saviour came."

But the following month Elder Himes writes a letter, on April 11th, which he publishes, to this effect: "Brother Mathewson informs me that we were mistaken about the death of his sister. It was also an error that she said she would live until the Advent. This was inferred from some of her remarks by those who visited her. She is yet living, but is quite feeble. She takes now sufficient for her support."

It was disheartening. Everything upon which they had laid stress seemed suddenly to be turning to dust and ashes!

As for the old Prophet, it is evident that he did not wholly take in the situation. He was worn out and sick in body and distressed in mind, and his flock no longer heeded every word that fell from his lips with the same sense of conviction that had held them before. He seems to have been wholly ignorant of the denials of Elder Himes, and he ignored the charges of Elder Storrs in regard to Mesmeric influences; his mind dwelt tenaciously upon his fixed idea - the Lord was coming. He would not tarry long. He might come any moment, and must not find them sleeping! And so like a wounded old soldier he girded up his loins again and, calling for the assistance of one of his brethren, he went forth undaunted to give warning once more, but the worn-out earthly frame was faltering. The bitter discovery that he had lost the power of directing many of those to whom he had once been a prophet and guide, together with the exhaustion of physical infirmities, wrested a cry of complaint from him, and on November 27, 1846, he wrote to Elder Buckley:

"I have not done with pain! I have been troubled with headache, teethache, bones-ache, and heartache since you left - but much more of the last ache when I think of my once dearly beloved brethren who have, since our disappointment, gone into fanaticism of every kind!… And now can you blame me for desiring a hermitage, away from the evil tidings and shameful acts of our friends in this time of severe trial?"

His biographer, Elder Bliss, speaks of this distress of mind and heart as follows: "As his infirmities increased, and strength diminished, he was very much pained by the irregularities, extravagances, and strange notions practiced or entertained by those who had departed from his teachings and counsels."

Ignorant of what is now called "mob psychology," he was bewildered at the impotence of his words to quell those mysterious mental currents which they had been means of accelerating, but which now they could no longer control. In vain he besought his followers not to set any more specific date for the coming of the Lord; - they would not heed him. It was useless for Elder Himes to reiterate the announcement he published in "The Midnight Cry" of November 7, 1844, after the failure of the prophecy: "The definite time of this event we know not… With our present light we have no revelation of a fixed day or definite time, but we do most fully believe that we should watch and wait…"

It was useless; they would have it their own way now, and make their own prophecies; they shielded themselves as much as possible from the public eye, but among themselves they swerved backwards and forwards, crying first this then that, trying to find solutions to the questions that beset them.

Some of them in deep and genuine distress of mind began to see flashes of light. "The mistake was in thinking the coming must be in a material instead of a spiritual experience," they cried; and these who suddenly acquired a clearer vision eventually found their way out of the labyrinth of their dilemma on to safe and dry land, but to this opinion the old Prophet would not listen. He longed to see the Lord in the flesh - to hear His voice with his own human ears - to feel the earthly heart within him throb with rapture at the sound. He could not and he would not admit the exclusively spiritual significance of the words he had pondered over so long; it was the material realization of them that he yearned for - the warm touch of the human hand of our blessed Lord, and to see Him dwelling again upon this earth, which though purged by fire would no doubt resemble the earth which he, William Miller, knew and was accustomed to. That was the sum total of his desire. He clung to it, and would not let it go.

But now many changes were noticed in him. He no longer terrified his followers with lurid accounts of hell; he seemed now to wish to impress upon their minds the comforting hope of heaven. All the controversies among them troubled and irritated him. His head felt weary with their questions and speculations. While they were rearranging the tenets of their faith to suit themselves, and quibbling about just what was to be the fate of the wicked, his mind was dwelling upon the peace and joy promised to those who were striving to live righteously.

On September 27, 1847, he wrote to Elder Himes: "The question of the annihilation of the wicked - it has no manner of use to me in this life. And I for one an determined, God being my helper, not to belong to that class in the world to come. I do not wonder that the world calls us insane; for I confess it looks like insanity to me to see religious, candid men spend their time and talents on questions of so little consequence to us here or hereafter."

It was now bruited abroad, not only by the world at large but by many of his followers, that Prophet Miller's opinions were under the complete dominion of Elder Himes, and this troubled his pride and angered him. According to his biographer, Elder Bliss, he wrote a latter on October 26, 1847, which was published for the benefit of the public and addressed to Elder Himes, which reads as follows: "It has been charged by some that I have been influenced by you and others. Such is not the case. I would say to all that I have never been dictated to by Brother Himes; nor has he to my knowledge ever tried to direct me. But these things do not affect me. I am able to bear all that my enemies can heap upon me, if the Lord helps me."

The world gives no quarter to failures, and the failure of the prophecy naturally subjected William Miller to unmitigated ridicule, but the lowering of his supremacy in the opinion of many who up to his failure regarded his word on Scriptural interpretations as final authority was as bitter a humiliation as anything he had to bear. But how surely retribution comes! He had mocked and ridiculed others for their religious convictions in his youth; it was his turn now to suffer all the pain that he had inflicted, and under the stress of it his health was becoming very noticeably impaired. Then a staggering blow fell upon him. The eyes which had been searching the heavens so long for signs of the Lord's coming were stricken with blindness! It was as if his human sight had to go before he could attain spiritual vision.

"I have never heard him murmur or say that it was hard. I think he feels somewhat cast down, but not forsaken." So wrote one of his daughters-in-law regarding his affliction.

Toward the last of April, 1849, his strength began to fail rapidly and in a letter which he dictated to the remnant of his following that met in conference at Boston on May 10th, he said:

"My multiplied and increasing infirmities admonish me that the time of my departure is drawing nigh. My earthly labors have ceased, and I now await the Master's call, to be ready at His appearing, or, if it so please Him for a little while His coming be delayed, to depart to be with Christ, which is far better than to abide in the flesh. I feel that I have but little choice, whether I shall be continued in life till that event, or my spirit be gathered to the spirits of just men made perfect.

"However God may be pleased to deal with me, I am sustained by the blessed assurance that whether I wake or sleep I shall be present with the Lord."

A short account of him given by Elder Robinson, who visited him in December, is as follows: After describing his approach to the farm he says:

"I was welcomed in the simply, hearty, easy style of a Vermont Christian farmer's family. That pleasant, beaming countenance of his wife, and the hearty shake of the hand, told me that I was at home; and the kettle of hominy just taken from the fire was at once prophetic of my supper. And all the members of the family, intelligent, modest, and cordial, made me feel how really glad they were of the call, and to hear from those abroad.

"I was quickly invited into the 'east room,' where 'Father Miller' greeted me… He was much changed, and yet not so changed as to leave all the food outlines of the former acquaintance behind. His sufferings through the summer and fall had been very great. His venerable white locks were few and thin, and his flesh like that of a child. But his voice was full, his memory good, and his intellect strikingly strong and clear, and his patience and resignation remarkable… He was sure it could not be long before the coming of the Lord. He wished Him to come soon; but if not, to be taken himself to the Lord."

And so the wandering Prophet - he who had wandered through the country roads and city streets, north and south, east and west - had come back blind and shattered to the neat and cared-for home where during all these years his faithful wife, Lucy Miller, had kept the fire burning, and raised eight of the ten children to whom she had given birth. There he lay in his helplessness and seeming defeat. When she looked into the sightless eyes and saw the wasted frame and the brown hair turned to silver, did she recall the young soldier of her youthful days, long since passed?

On the morning of the 17th of December, 1849, they sent for Elder Himes, as they saw the end was near. The man who had brought William Miller out from the rural districts into the turmoil of great thoroughfares, who had pioneered him through the hectic years of delusion and assisted him in giving forth his momentous warning, was the one he called for now. On him he desired his mantle should fall.

A letter from Elder Himes, written in retrospect, gives a short but memorable account of the few words that passed between them. [Sylvester Bliss, Life of William Miller.]

"On entering the room," he wrote, "he immediately recognized my voice. He grasped my hand and held it for some time, exclaiming with much earnestness and in a tone of affection, 'Is this Elder Himes? Is it Elder Himes? Oh, is it Elder Himes? I am glad to see you.'

"'Then you know me, Father Miller, do you?'

"'Oh yes, I understand, I know what is passing!'

"He was silent for a few moments, apparently in a deep study. Presently he introduced the subject of my connection with the Advent cause, and spoke of my responsibility; expressed much anxiety about the cause, and alluded to his own departure."

Elder Himes tried to reassure him. "So far as I am concerned," he told him, "I hope for grace to enable me to be faithful in the ministry I had received."

This seemed to comfort him, and he fell into a sort of doze, for he was very weak.

In a few minutes he recovered himself. "Elder Himes has come," he said. "I love Elder Himes." Then came another pause.

If he was abandoned by all but a comparatively small following, his own family made up for it in tender solicitude and devotion. He seemed to want to hear the old hymns of hid childhood days, and they gathered about him, and at his request sang:

"There is a land of pure delight,
Where Saints immortal reign.
Infinite day excludes the night,
And pleasure banish pain."
He seemed to find great solace in these words. Then they sang to him: "Happy the spirit released from its clay."

And the weary old man murmured over and over, "Oh, I long to be there!"

In spite of all the ups and downs of his strange life, so wholly given over to proclaiming his prophecy which failed; in spite of the disappointment and all the bitter humiliation he earned as the fruits of his labor, his death was a happy one, and it must be recorded that he met it with the valiant spirit of an old soldier.

He never swerved from his fixed idea, but assured them all with his accustomed positiveness that the Lord was coming, that He was "even nigh unto the door," and on the morning of December 20th they looked at him and then at each other and bowed their heads, for they knew that for him this was true.

It was while his wife and his sons and daughters and Elder Himes were silently watching beside his bedside that the summons came.

Like a sentinel on guard at his post, the old Prophet answered. His sightless eyes opened wide and stared into space, but it was with the eyes of his soul that he beheld the all-satisfying vision.

"Victory!" he cried out several times - lifting his dying voice - Victory! Shouting in death!"

And thus they knew that at last, for him, the blessed Lord had come.

[A church was built in Low Hampton, New York, in memory of William Miller.]

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